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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

2 Stars — Shallow

It is hard to take seriously the messages delivered through comic book characters, but at least in this case "good" always wins out over "evil." If you take this film seriously, though, you miss the point. It is just good, humorous fun and not meant to be much more.

That is not to say that there aren't values portrayed in the story. Some are universally "good vs. evil" fights between the Galaxy Guardians and the aliens who seek revenge on innocent people, but other values are portrayed as caricatures in which talking animals will only do what is right if it is in their own self-interest. Not surprisingly, there is no implication that a universal standard of truth, justice or love exists, but rather "The Force" is with you. So acting in your own self-interest is as deep as the story gets.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is the leader of the Guardians and is the only earth-birthed human in the story. Having been captured by aliens as a young boy, he finds himself 26 years later as the unlikely hero leading a rag-tag band of misfits on a quest to stop the evil Ronan (Lee Pace) from destroying an entire planet as an act of revenge.

In his entourage is a galaxy of human Hollywood stars, including Gomora (Zoe Saldana) from the house of Ronan, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) the constantly jabbering raccoon privateer, Groot (Vin Diesel) the talking tree and Drax (Dave Bautista) a heavyweight champion of the prison world. Among the cast of hundreds is planetary president Nova Prime (Glenn Close), Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly), Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and The Collector (Benicio Del Toro).

The story is a simple one that is told over and over again in fiction. There are good guys led by humans who stop the evil about to be perpetuated on innocent people by aliens.

Peter Quill never intended to be a leader, having preferred the self-satisfying job of being a good-looking scavenging pirate, or a "collector" as they call it in their world. Through all the usual pitfalls of space life and adventure, the newly gathered tribe of Guardians stops the worldly destruction and emerges as the heroes of the galaxy.

It is obvious that this is just another fun-seeking franchise of Marvel Comics that has made this company wealthy and successful, and many sequels will come next.

In the mid-20th century, comic books became the morality plays of young boys and girls in America. Today they are not only big business, but they have become the morality plays of much of the world. Marvel Comics movies have made billions of dollars, and their characters appear in conventions in untold numbers. The good news is that they have a set of values built into them that had its birth in the people of the Depression in the 1930s. Strong, salt-of-the-earth, go-to-church-on-Sunday people who knew right from wrong were the backbone of the characters that came to life in the comics.

By contrast, the horror films that also come out of Hollywood are based on a dark and evil presumption about the cheapness of life that allows us to dispose of anyone who doesn't make us feel good about ourselves. Given that choice, it is a welcome relief to see that people flock to movies like Guardians of the Galaxy in numbers that leave horror movies in the dust.


» Do you accept the moral teachings that come through comic book characters? Why or why not?

» The allure of Hans Solo who was a smuggler in the Star Wars films, or pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean, or Wesley as the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride, is also seen in Peter Quill. Why do you think a pirate is often chosen as a hero in films such as these?

» It is difficult to imagine a more motely crew of characters than the Guardians. What do you think the writers are communicating?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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